The Ritual by Ted Thompson

Viviana stared at the teacup before her. She had prepared it four times within these last three months but always lost the nerve to drink it. He would be here soon. They would kiss and he would ask if she had done it. Each passing day he seemed to be getting more distant and his frustration grew too, like the secret in her womb.

A door opened and her lover walked in. He was wearing his rich blue robes with his concealing black mask. He turned and locked the door and proceeded to remove it.

“You’re early?” Viviana said concealing the cup.

“I wanted to make sure,” he said grimly.

Viviana laid the cup out in the open. “I can’t do it! I couldn’t live with myself. Marcus, help me!” she rose to embrace him, throwing her arms around his neck. She sobbed into his shoulder.

“It’s ok Viviana.” Marcus pulled her back before him. “I came to tell you that I have a plan.”

Viviana stepped away, “What?”

Marcus reached for her hand, “Do you love me?”

“Yes,” Viviana nodded.

“Do you trust me?”

“Yes, Marcus, I trust you.”

“Then leave with me, right now,” he opened a scroll and Viviana’s eyes opened wide. It was powerful, and would take them anywhere they chose.
Smiling wide, Viviana was overcome with joy that she had’t felt in a long time. She dared to hope that they would never return. Even that they might live the rest of their lives together, as man and wife and…

Marcus took Viviana’s hand as he read the scroll and then, they were gone.

o~O~o

The Mwangi jungle was hot. Even at night the tropical forest was uncomfortably warm and muggy. Marcus swung his machete, again and again, knocking down relentless wild growth. Drenched from his own sweat, he stopped to check his wayfinder and get a bearing.

He pressed a jewel on the magical compass, which created a soft light. Putting it in his mouth, he reached into a scroll case to withdraw a map. Satisfied, he snapped the wayfinder shut and raised his machete once more.

Readying to swing, he paused noticing a dramatic change in the jungle foliage ahead. Relieved, he put his machete away, “What we are looking for is just beyond those white roots. Nothing magic will be of any use from here on.” He stepped into the white region and held out his hand to Viviana. She walked up to him standing just beyond the edge. “What is this Marcus?”

“It’s a good thing Viviana; it’s a magic dead zone, it will protect us. Everything we do from here on out cannot be seen by anyone. Trust me?”

Smiling Viviana stepped forward, “Yes, I trust you.”

Together the two walked into the pale vine covered growth.

“So, we are truly free of them?” Viviana smiled warmly and thought of the life they would share. All these years of secrecy, sneaking around and hiding their love would finally end with them together. She gripped his hand tightly, laughing and feeling like a young girl “Finally, running away together!”

“Running away was not the plan, Viviana.”

Viviana slowed feeling a tinge of dread. She had hoped they would escape, marry. If that was not the plan…

Viviana backed away from Marcus, “What do you mean?”

Marcus grabbed her tightly. “You said you love me. Now prove it!”

Marcus breathed in deeply. “We can get rid of it here. Just a little further is someone that can perform…”

“You dragged me out here for this?!” Viviana flushed red, anger replacing joy. She pulled her hand away.

“I went to a lot of trouble to find this place. It’s special! Everything we do here, we’ll forget. You said you couldn’t live with yourself if you did it. Now you can to do it and live with yourself!”

Viviana screamed, “I couldn’t do it because it is a part of you! I love you!”

Viviana went limp and fell to the jungle floor. “All this time I thought this was going to be about us. You never said…”

Marcus held out his hand but Viviana didn’t take it.

“I want it the way it was Viviana. For years we enjoyed our work and our nights together. It would be too dangerous for a child, and if they found out they might just kill us.”

“Quiet! I hear something!” Viviana whispered. Marcus heard drum beats in the distance.

“Those are for you.” Marcus shook his head and walked away from her, heading toward the sound. Viviana’s eyes swelled with tears as she stood up to follow.

Ahead, Marcus stood at the edge of a clearing. Viviana walked up beside him where she saw a woman standing silently before him. White and black paint adorned her ebon skin in exotic patterns. Engraved rune stones hung from her reed skirt.

“We been expectin’ you!”

A fire burned in the clearing behind the woman, and the drums they’d heard earlier suddenly beat with intensity.

The witch smiled a toothless grin, “I feel you both be powerful outside, but in here I be more powerful still. You come with problem.” The witch pointed to Viviana’s belly.

The witch turned, looking towards the fire. The drums changed to a somber beat. “I make it go away. But, what I ask, very hard.”

“What do you require Zenj witch?” Marcus called out.

The witch looked to the sky and then to the full moon, “First, I must know the name of the child we murder this night. That be all for the moment.”

“What?” Viviana said in shock.

“It be that simple. Out here, I have all I need. The most valuable thing you brought, you’re going to throw away anyhow. What could you offer me when you don’t even know what you have?”

Viviana grimaced, shamed and confused “This is more than I can stand!”

“It is my business.” The witch interrupted. “I make murder here, murder of the foulest kind. You outsiders think I have a cure for what troubles you. If you call killing innocence a cure, I believe you fouler than me. However, I deliver that innocent soul to Pharasma’s arms so she take it the rest of the way.”

The witch put her hands into the earth and pulled up white dirt. “In this cursed place. Nothing see in or out…cept me! You won’t even remember you been here. When you are home and safe, this fall outa you like rotten fruit. But before I make that happen…I need a name!

Viviana paused as her emotions spiraled, “Why?”

“Because, no gods take mortal souls without a name.”
“What I do not easy. I have to get real close to something maybe even more powerful than the gods themselves. Somethin’ that let’s me see the life I am gonna take, a punishment for my part in sendin the soul home. So when you hear me speak about this soul that could have been, remember that you’ll forget. You undastand me? If you do, we begin.”

Viviana looked to Marcus and he back to her.

“Gimme your son’s name.”

A son…Viviana froze. The witch said she had a son. With tears welling up in her eyes, Viviana swallowed hard.

“Suri, his name is…Suri. Named for my father who died in the crusades, before I was born. Marcus put his hand on Viviana’s shoulder but she shrugged it away.

“And family name?”

Viviana looked surprised, “family name?”

“Yes,” the witch insisted.

“My last name is Tilden, of Taldor. Marcus is Amar of Garundi decent. Together…” Viviana looked at the drums behind the witch, considering what to do. “Together, that makes…Tilmar.”

“What god should I tell Pharasma to deliver Suri to?”

Viviana looked to the heavens,“Abadar, god of law.”

The drumbeat’s quickened and everyone around the fire stood up. Still playing, they began to leave the clearing.

“Come! We go to the shrine.”

The procession walked into the jungle with Marcus and Viviana following. As they walked, three dark skinned women wearing white paint, moved to walk beside Viviana. They soon reached a large thatched hut.

“Go.” The witch instructed Viviana.

Marcus began to walk with Viviana but the witch thrust out her arm.

“You have no part here. Leave this cursed place and wait beyond the pale ground. I be watching you! I know why you here so do what I say.”

Marcus looked at Viviana as she was taken into the hut. He wanted to say something comforting to her, but she didn’t look his way. Relieved, he headed back with the witch watching him until he was out of site. He stopped for a moment to write a brief message.

You are waiting for her.
She went through with it as you asked.
It is over.

Marcus then put everything but the note away and headed into the brush and eventually out of the dead zone.

The Ritual concludes in Part 2